In a sense, IT project management is simple to understand. As the more intuitive folk out there may already have deduced, it means the use of project management to help accomplish IT goals.

But don’t put down your pipe just yet, Sherlock. IT project management requires a special approach, as the IT context brings with it a unique set of requirements.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the details that set IT project management apart as a specialist practice. We’ll also be sure to sprinkle in plenty of tips and advice that should help you implement IT project management at your organization.

What we’ll cover:

  1. What is IT project management?

  2. The IT project lifecycle

  3. IT project management activities throughout the project lifecycle

  4. What is the role of an IT project manager?

  5. Special considerations in IT project management

  6. Best PM methodologies for IT projects

  7. IT project management software

What is IT Project Management?

IT project management helps teams deliver the tech and digital products that make the world go around, from the smartphone in your hand to the IT systems at your local schools and hospitals. 

The IT project management process is based on the completion of tasks, which contribute towards project deliverables such as new digital products and services. Most of the work usually takes place within a project management platform.

Types of IT project which are often delivered using a project management process include: 

  • Web design 

  • Website migration 

  • Software or app development

  • Network maintenance

  • Digital transformation projects

  • Hardware product development

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, just about any IT project more complicated than booting up your computer could likely benefit from IT project management. It’s the best approach anyone’s ever come up with to ensure the right things get done, and that project-critical things don’t get overlooked. 

The IT project lifecycle 

The work of IT project management progresses through the four phases of the IT project lifecycle. These are as follows: 

  • Initiation – the project is commissioned and officially started

  • Planning – the tasks and deliverables of the project are planned

  • Execution – the project gets done, using a project managed process

  • Evaluation – project outcomes are assessed against success criteria

In the next section, we’ll look at the key IT project management activities taking place during each phase.

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IT project management activities throughout the project lifecycle

Initiation & Planning 

At the outset of a project, the IT project manager and other key stakeholders lead the process of formulating the project plan.

The first step is interviewing key decision-makers to identify the project’s deliverables. These are the outputs of the project – its products. Common deliverables of IT projects include firmwares, software products, digital services, and project data which can be used to optimize future projects. Each deliverable should be clearly defined, as this will help ensure the project actually produces whatever it’s supposed to produce.

With the project deliverables identified, leadership can plan how the team will get the project done. This involves creating a project schedule, which will set out the project’s tasks and subtasks, each with its own deadline. A properly representative board of stakeholders should be consulted throughout this process, as this will help ensure no part of the team gets a human-rights-violating quantity of work dumped on their desk. The schedule should also feature milestones, which denote dates when the team expects to complete major parts of the project. Making objectives time-limited in this way tends to help team members focus and get things done. 

Other important IT project management activities during project planning include creating project documentation, such as the project scope document and project baseline, and setting up resources such as the project timeline. The team will also need to identify the right project management platform to accommodate the project, if it doesn’t have one set up already.

Execution 

While a project is underway, the responsibility for leading on IT project management activities falls to the IT project manager. Everything this person does should be aimed at ensuring the project plan is carried out successfully. Key IT project management tasks during project execution include: 

  • Maintaining project documentation – documents like code versions, meeting notes and media assets need to be filed within the project management platform, where they’ll be easy to find when they’re needed.

  • Solving team members’ problems – when a team member encounters an obstacle which is blocking them from completing a task, the IT project manager removes the obstacle or helps the team member work around it. 

  • Responding to change – every project is susceptible to situational change. When a change seems likely to affect a project, the senior stakeholders must decide how the project can adapt to suit its new circumstances. 

  • Assigning tasks to team members – as new requirements emerge over the duration of a project, new tasks will need to be assigned to team members who have capacity to take them on. 

  • Keeping up the project management process – project management only works when the team stays on-board with it. The project manager and other experienced team members need to ensure everyone’s buy-in by providing training in how to use the chosen project management platform and methodology. The people with the most experience of project management should be on hand to answer other team members’ questions about the process. 

  • Monitoring and reporting on progress – project progress should be monitored closely via the team’s project management platform. You may choose to deliver tailored progress reports to team members who could benefit from seeing them. 

Evaluation 

After a project has been delivered, the team moves on to the final phase of the project life cycle: evaluation.

IT projects can be evaluated on multiple levels. Did project execution live up to the project plan? Were there moments when the team underperformed against the plan? Did the senior stakeholders and project manager set unrealistic goals at the outset of the project? Did a troublesome client make you wish for a great asteroid to strike the Earth, wiping out the planet and all its inhabitants?

In all seriousness, any learnings from the evaluation phase are valid, and they should be fed into planning for the next project.

If you’re able to allocate plenty of time to evaluation, you may choose to do more in-depth analysis of the project’s outcomes, which should be measured against success criteria set during project planning. 

What is the role of an IT project manager? 

IT project managers are typically responsible for planning and managing IT projects, as well as overseeing project delivery and evaluation.

This person works with all relevant project stakeholders to ensure successful delivery of the project. Think of them as the Charlie to your Angels, looking after the big picture.

Skills and qualities listed in IT project manager role descriptions commonly include: 

  • Leadership skills

  • Problem solving

  • Technical understanding

  • Data management

  • Developing budgets

  • Organizational skills

The IT project manager should also be an evangelist for the team’s chosen project management platform and methodology, as team member buy-in is essential to the orderly and successful delivery of IT projects.

The best IT project managers often use a combination of leadership skills and technical savvy to ensure their team is equipped to do a great job throughout a project’s duration. But besides this commonality, IT project managers vary in lots of ways from team to team.

One of the main points of difference among IT project managers is the nature of their relationship to the project. Some teams need a project manager to work with them throughout an entire project, from planning to evaluation. Others may engage an IT project manager on a more occasional basis – for example, to consult on project planning for a complicated IT project.

Special considerations in IT project management 

Complex dependencies 

In project management, a dependency is when one task must be completed before another begins. . For example, “Task B: Publish app to the app store” could be dependent on “Task A: Create app artwork according to app store specifications”. 

When dependencies are identified – whether that’s during project planning, or in the middle of a project – the IT project manager should use the team’s project management platform to build the dependency into the project plan. The platform should then incorporate a visual representation of the dependency into relevant project graphics and schedules, while making it impossible to mark the dependent task as completed until the task it depends upon is done. 

Unexpected delays to tasks with dependencies can cause a project to reach a bottleneck, where key tasks cannot be completed because the tasks they depend on are still outstanding. Project managers should guard against this possibility by implementing a solution or process for allocating work to team members who have spare capacity. This makes it easy to assign a team member with sufficient time and capability to complete the depended-upon task, which helps keep the whole project moving.

IT project managers often have to deal with complex dependencies in their projects. This could mean a task is dependent on the completion of not one, but multiple other tasks. Dependencies existing between tasks from two different projects can also be considered complex – or complicated, at least.

If an IT project seems likely to involve complex dependencies, the project manager should be ready to accommodate the dependencies using an appropriate solution within their project management platform. In projects with very complex dependencies, such as a website migration project, the team may also benefit from creating a flowchart showing the dependencies. This can make a complex web of relationships easier to digest visually. 

Security measures 

Some IT projects call for rigorous security measures, due to the sensitive nature of the intellectual property, customer data or confidential information they involve. And you do not want to become the IT team responsible for the leak of so-and-so’s data. 

Overseeing delivery of security measures is sometimes the responsibility of the IT project manager. The measures, which could range from firewall setup to pentesting, typically need to be done before key milestones such as staging and general release can be reached. Security measures and the tasks that depend upon them are therefore often included as dependencies in the project plan. 

Managing external stakeholders 

IT projects often require the involvement of numerous external stakeholders. Depending on the specific project, these could include hosting providers, SaaS vendors, ecommerce platforms, hardware sellers, and agencies or freelancers that provide specialist capabilities. That’s a whole lot of cooks to keep from spoiling the broth. 

The IT project manager is usually responsible for managing the relationship with each vendor involved in a project. What does the vendor need from the team, in order to perform its role effectively? Can the vendor’s systems and applications be integrated smoothly with the organization’s own systems? These are the sorts of questions the IT project manager needs to find the answers to, through regular discussion with their point-of-contact for each vendor. 

Another thing the IT project manager needs to work out is how each external stakeholder will participate in the project management process. Trusted collaborators who will play a key role in the project are often on-boarded onto the team’s project management platform. Meanwhile, the involvement of more distant collaborators is typically recorded by a member of the project team, within the project management platform.

Data management 

Data management is yet another special consideration which IT project managers often need to take into account. It refers to the whole process of harvesting, validating, storing, securing and processing data – all the steps required to make the data suitable for use. 

This can enable projects to be optimised throughout their duration. For example, in a project to create a suite of software products, some of the products may be tested or released earlier than the rest. Data gathered on the user experience and performance of these products can be analysed, in order to yield insights that will help the team optimize their approach to delivering the remaining products.

During project planning, the IT project manager should identify the data that will be used for in-project optimization. The identified data can then be defined and managed as project deliverables. 

Best PM methodologies for IT project management 

In practice, IT project management requires the use of a specific project management methodology. A methodology is a set of practices and principles used to deliver project management. 

  • Agile 

  • Scrum

  • Kanban

  • Scrumban

  • XP 

  • Waterfall

  • PRINCE2 

It’s a good idea to spend plenty of time researching these methodologies before you choose one, since training team members in how to use a methodology may require a significant investment of time and the team’s good will.

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IT project management software 

Almost all IT project managers use a project management platform. This gives the project team a shared digital space where they can communicate and collaborate together, view and work on their personal tasks, and store project documentation. Meanwhile, the project manager uses the platform to assign work to team members, monitor project progress and produce reports for senior stakeholders.

For much more detail on the role of project management software, read about Teamwork.